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July 08, 2005

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Scott Buhrmaster Topics & Tactics for Law Enforcement
with Scott Buhrmaster

Learning from London

Homeland security experts are calling for renewed vigilance and scrutiny the day after the London terrorist attacks where more than 50 people died and hundreds were injured.

Dr. Vincent Henry, Director of the Long Island University Homeland Security Management Institute, suggests that U.S. law enforcement pay very close attention to what British officials do in the wake of this attack, both in terms of investigating the incident and taking steps to prevent future attacks, and to mirror their actions as much as possible.

"These people have been dealing with terrorism for more than 30 years and they know what they're doing," Henry says. "They're the best in the business and we can learn from them."

In November 2001 Henry, at the time a Detective Sergeant with NYPD, was dispatched to Scotland Yard to study how the British approached counter-terrorism.

"From the start of their careers, British officers are trained to stay acutely aware of people, packages, vehicles and behaviors that seem out of the ordinary," says Henry. "Agencies train together and consistently practice for multiple agency responses. They prepare for a wide range of response anomalies, right down to flat tires on mobile command center vehicles and high-level commanders being out of town during an attack, and they learn to deal with them.

"Their training is superb and their effectiveness is outstanding."

PoliceOne columnist Lt. Raymond E. Foster suggests that one of the main domestic concerns should be copycat attacks launched by terrorists who take their cue from the tactics used in London. Additionally, Foster cautions officers to be cognizant of the fact that secondary explosions, strategically timed to hit responding emergency personnel, call for continued awareness of suspicious objects or people even after the primary blast. That raised awareness should also carry over into daily patrol routine. Things that appear out of the ordinary or tweak your curiosity should not be overlooked.

Among the key lessons Henry sees U.S. law enforcement, and the world for that matter, taking away from these attacks is where the vulnerabilities existed, how they were exploited and how the British close the gaps.

"The security officials will study this multi-pronged attack intensely until they are convinced that they have identified and bolstered the weak spots. We would be wise to look for those same weak spots here and take the same aggressive approach they will take to removing, or at the very least protecting them.

"This incident reminds us that even the most trained police forces and security conscious countries can fall prey to terrorist attack," Henry says.

"The key is to avoid the collateral damage that comes in the form of an overriding atmosphere of guilt, vulnerability and helplessness. The British and all of us would do well to remember the phrase, 'forgive and remember.' Forgive yourself of the fact that somehow terrorists succeeded in launching an attack in the face of your best security efforts but remember what may have gone wrong so it doesn't happen again. If we become frightened and tentative, that's when we're really in trouble."

Additional reporting by PoliceOne News Editor Lindsay Gebhart

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Related Story:

Bombing details: Less than 10 pounds of explosives used in each blast

By BETH GARDINER
Associated Press Writer

LONDON - The bombs used in London's terrorist attacks held less than 10 pounds of explosives, police said Friday - light enough to easily tote in a bag or knapsack - yet police found no evidence suicide attackers set them off.

They declined to respond to questions about a U.S. official's claim that evidence indicating timers were used was found in the debris. London police also played down the possibility the devices were detonated by remote control using cell phones, instead asking the public for patience Friday as their investigation picks up momentum.

Whoever placed the bombs put them on the floor in three Underground cars, and either on the floor or on a seat of one of London's red, double-decker buses, the city's police commissioner said at a news conference.

"We have absolutely nothing to suggest this was a suicide bombing attack although nothing at this stage to rule that out," Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said.

Police said they had found no bombs other than the four that exploded. Police destroyed two suspicious packages in other areas in controlled explosions, but Blair said they turned out to be harmless.

Media reports of additional explosives could be attributed to the initial confusion about the number of bombs, said Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman.

"Initially, the forensic investigation suggests that each device used had less than 10 pounds of high explosives," Hayman said. The weight of explosives was smaller than recent bombs detonated in the Middle East.

Hayman appealed for patience as the investigation proceeds.

"Our people are working under the most extreme circumstances," he said _ including amid fears that the tunnel will collapse on top of them at the blast site near the Russell Square tube station, where bodies lay uncollected a day later as engineers studied the area.

How the bombs were detonated remained an open question Friday.

A U.S. law enforcement official said Thursday that investigators believe some of the bombs were on timers, based on evidence recovered from the rubble. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not further describe the evidence and London police declined to comment on the claim.

Blair confirmed that police considered shutting down London's cell phone networks Thursday as the explosions were reported, apparently out of concern the bombs were detonated by mobile phone, but ruled it out.

"We did consider it. We do have that ability," Blair said. But he said commanders considered how that would affect public confidence, and decided not to do it.

Moreover, investigators doubt that cell phones _ used in the Madrid train attacks a year ago _ were used to detonate the bombs in the Underground because the phones often don't work in the system's deep tunnels, London's transport police said Friday.

Police also found no evidence suicide attackers had acted as human detonators for the explosives they carried _ but conceded their work was just getting started.

Investigators were sifting through wreckage, poring over hours of closed-circuit TV footage and interviewing witnesses to find answers behind the deadliest attacks the city has seen since World War II. The process could take months.

"Consider the number of routes, the number of scenes, the opportunities which they present, and which is then complicated further by a bus that is moving," Hayman said of tracing the attackers movement on surveillance tapes.

Police said determining the type of explosive device might help. So far, officials have said the explosions had all the signatures of an attack from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

Dozens of people died in the four bombings, although police continued to work to establish the precise number because investigators had not been able to reach all the dead inside the tunnel and in the twisted wreckage of the double-decker bus, peeled open on the top and sides by the bomb.

"There is a great difficulty in determining how many fatalities there are because two of the scenes are very difficult in terms of recovery," Blair said.

"One is the bus which is taking some time because of the nature of the explosion, but more acutely the tube train at Russell Square still contains a number of bodies which have not yet been retrieved, we do not know how many there are there," he said.

Related Stories:

Terrorism strikes London transport system; bombs kill 50

U.S. hikes terror level for transit following London bombings

Bombing details: Less than 10 pounds of explosives used in each blast

Public transit systems difficult to protect from terrorists

Recent terror attacks at a glance

About the author

If you have tactical information, compelling incidents, general comments or topics you would like to share, please contact Scott Buhrmaster, Managing Editor for PoliceOne.com and the Director of Training for the PoliceOne Training Network, at: buhrmastergroup@comcast.net







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